Adventist Church in Thailand in Years-Long Battle with Cult Leader

On July 5, the Bangkok Post published a report about the ongoing battle between the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Thailand and Lao Yang, a former Adventist turned cult leader who is facing charges on six counts of sexual abuse, including two against minors who filed earlier this month.

According to the Post, “the victims accused [Yang] of abusing them when they attended a ritual organized by Mr. Yang’s cult in a jungle.” Yang allegedly told the victims that the abuse was part of a “ritual for redemption.” The victims’ parents say Yang claimed he was a Seventh-day Adventist preacher.

In reality, Yang and three of his associates were excommunicated in 2009 after a series of “unusual behaviors” came to the attention of church leadership in Thailand. Yang’s behaviors included falling ill and claiming he was possessed by an evil spirit and then once well, claiming he could communicate directly with God. Yang also discouraged people from possessing a national ID card, saying the card is the symbol of the beast and telling students they should not go to school but instead focus on preaching.

The Seventh-day Adventist name is trademarked and controlled by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. When asked why charges have never been levied against Yang for misrepresenting himself and continuing to use the name “Seventh-day Adventist” in his meetings and literature, the GC’s General Counsel Office referred all inquiries to Niratisai Aipan, President of the Thailand Adventist Mission (TAM).

In an email communication with Aipan, he stated “since the beginning of this case, the GC/SSD/SAUM” [have been] aware and involved in [finding] solutions.” (SAUM is the Southeast Asia Union Mission and SSD is the Southern Asia-Pacific Division which oversee TAM.)

Indeed, in an email communication dated August 31, 2015 between former TAM President Chanchai Kiatyanyong and officials from the GC, SSD, and SAUM, Kiatyanyong references a time almost a decade prior, in 2006, when representatives from these entities were sent to Thailand “to prove…claims that [Yang] received message[s] from God. The Committee proved and saw that he is not a true prophet.”

Yet Yang continued to use the Seventh-day Adventist name and Kiatyanyong states that three people committed suicide under Yang’s leadership and “many more families were broken because some members followed the false prophets.”

Additionally, Yang sent letters to the Director of the Department of Religious Affairs in Thailand, the Minister of Cultural Affairs, and the Prime Minister claiming to be the leader of the true Adventist Church of Thailand and stating that TAM is not doing the work of God.

After conferring with GC, union, and division officials, Kiatyanyong requested a meeting with the Religious Affairs Department hoping to put the issue to rest once and for all, though a prior meeting with Thai leadership regarding this matter had just taken place on August 24, 2015.

On September 2, Dr. G.T. Ng, executive secretary of the General Conference, told Kiatyanyong that GC Attorney Karnik Doukmetzian would be overseeing the case from the GC’s side.

Kiatyanyong learned on September 3 that the meeting between Thai government officials, TAM leadership, and Yang’s group had been scheduled for September 7. Due to the short notice, GC officials were unable to take part in the meeting, but Doukmetzian did provide President Kiatyanyong with an official letter from GC President Ted Wilson and an electronic copy of the Fundamental Beliefs to use in the meeting.

TAM leadership hoped this meeting would resolve the issue with Yang and his followers, but it did not. During the meeting, the Thai government officials noted the fact that the official Seventh-day Adventist Church in Thailand is registered with the government under several names including “Seventh-day Adventist Church Foundation,” “SDA Church of Thailand,” and “Seventh-day Adventist Church of Thailand.”

This seems to have occurred because different parts of the Thai government recognized the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Thailand at different times. The Church was first organized there in 1919, was recognized by the Ministry of Education in 1962, and was finally recognized by the Department of Religious Affairs in 2009. Because of this confusion, a new letter was requested from President Wilson to be presented to the Department of Religious Affairs. The letter was drafted by TAM officials and issued by the GC under Wilson’s signature on December 14, 2015. The letter is included below.

By March 2016, the situation was still far from being resolved and had instead escalated. One of Yang’s followers, Santiparp Nimitkitikun, filed a lawsuit against four TAM pastors and one missionary, claiming religious persecution. As of this writing, the lawsuit is still ongoing.

As for the situation with Yang, current TAM President Aipan and other officials held a live press conference on July 13, 2017 with Thairat TV Channel 12 to address ongoing concerns, where they vehemently denied any connection to Yang or his followers. TAM Executive Secretary Nipitpon Pongteekatasana said it went well and that “after the interview the Thai Society understood that they are not members of the SDA Church and they misused our name. We are protecting the name of the SDA Church and they cannot use our name, books, and any publications printed by the SDA Church of Thailand.”

It’s a small victory in a battle that has spanned years. Yang, meanwhile, has been out on bail since July 3 while he awaits trial. This is the third time he has been granted bail for his various charges of sexual abuse. He continues to deny the allegations.

Alisa Williams is managing editor at SpectrumMagazine.org.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8122

I can almost begin to agree that the SDA GC might be justified in using the world’s court systems ( ‘church’ joining hands with ‘state’ ) to defend the ‘good name’ of ‘God’s church’ in the world . . .
until I try to understand why God needs help in defending His church from threats such as small businesses that sell SDA Pathfinder club paraphernalia in Orlando, Florida, USA . . . as reported earlier this year by Spectrum.

There seems to be such a thing as modern ‘demon possession’. If I wanted to accomplish an exorcism, I think I might go to ‘God’s church’ (if there still is such a thing) first, for help, and not to a mere ‘court system’ of this world. If that Christ that cast out demons is not currently with the SDA GC, then why not ? That seems to be the greater, and the first, problem that needs to be confronted. Remember, too, that it was Paul who was dragged into ‘court’ at Philippi when he cast the demon out of the ‘damsel’ ‘in the name of Jesus Christ’, not in the ‘good name’ of the new ‘Christian church’.

. . . But, what is ‘demonic’ about selling Pathfinder paraphernalia ?

Dennis,
Church organizations are corporations with all the characteristics of secular corporations. Just because a group identifies itself as “God;s remnant”, or “God’s people” or “spiritual Israel”, it operates as all other businesses.

God’s “church” is invisible - that is, The Most High does not dwelling houses (coporations) made by human hands. (Acts 7: 48; 17:24).

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That the GC has been remiss to act on what is clearly an emboldened usurpation of church identity, the failure to correct apparent flagrant teaching of heresies, the silence with regard to attempted de-legitimization of duly elected world church governance, the implicit complicity in the consequent tragic human carnage (ongoing sexual abuses and reported suicides) is highly suggestive. As a body claiming to be the highest authority of God on earth, has the GC lost its moorings and badly confused its priorities?

That the GC is seemingly less concerned with the human cost of Yangs activities and more concerned with visiting “painful punishments” upon duly empowered church-constituent sub-entities who practice “co-ordination” (ordination without respect to gender) quite plainly explicitly belies its desire to continue subordination of women. “Headship” actually suborns ALL lay members…

To further divert questions about GC (in)action back to the Thailand mission is risible in the face of its meddling in the Unions who dared to ordain women.

Unless the church-or, rather, its institutional structure- has “risen”, it cannot fall, right?
If the institutional church has been aware of, and been involved in “finding solutions” to this debacle since “the beginning of this case” (what, 8 years at least?), what confidence have we as laity that threats and hastily imposed punishments against “equal ordaining” local conferences/Unions (after only “one year of grace”) is a Godly solution?

Pray for our church, pray for our leaders, pray for eye salve. And humility, to avoid the hierarchical ascension.

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W.O. = SDA OW not WOW!